Kiltiernan National School and its teachers 1879-1982

by Fr Malachy Hallinan

On the Galway to Limerick road, midway between the villages of Kilcolgan and Ardrahan stands the three teacher school of Kiltiernan, the new school on the right and a little farther across the road, the old school now the residence of the Meehan family.

As the motorist speeds by, he hardly notices the school, but the remark is often made – ‘that is where the children, even the girls, are always hurling.’

Over the past decade it has become well-known because of the hurling ability of its teams in the County Inter-Schools Seven-A-Side competition, but history surrounds its origin, its teachers, maybe not its pupils.

What caused a school to be built in an area that is open and barren, and even today, very thinly populated, despite its proximity to Galway city?  The answer to the question must wait until I have outlined the educational facilities and schools that existed in the area in the first half of the 19th century.

Henry VIII

Henry VIII had ordered parish schools to be built in 1537 to make the Catholics English speaking and Protestant but only a few such schools existed in South Galway – Kilmacduagh, Kilchreest, Kilcolgan and Ardrahan.

The Catholics attended their own “Hedge Schools”, during the Penal times and in the 19th century after the repeal of the Penal code the number of these schools increased.

Kiltiernan was in the old parish of Kilcolgan, but very close to the parishes of Killeenavarra, Dromacoo and Ardrahan.  In the year 1826 there was a hedge-school in the townland of Cahirpeak, with 42 pupils on roll.  It was an ordinary house; Timothy Brennan was the Master and his income of £20 came from the fees the children paid.

There was the “Parish School” at Kilcolgan, a room in a well-built cottage; the master was James Galbraith, a Protestant.  Tuition was free, but there were only 13 on roll, two of them Catholics.

There was no school in Killeenavarra parish at this time, and in the parish of Dromacoo, a thatched school built of stone and lime existed at Ballindereen where Timothy Scarry taught, with a salary of 20 from childrens fees.  It had 88 pupils on roll.

Ardrahan had its “Parish School” at Rouchane where the children got free education.  This schoolhouse was a temporary house made up from an old farmhouse given by James Lambert Esq. Cregclare, who also gave the site and £50 for the Catholic Church in Labane.  Catholics had permission from the parish priest, Fr. John Nolan to attend. The master was James Burke, a Catholic who was paid a salary of £12 by the Protestant Minister and General Taylor.  There were 10 Protestants and 157 Catholics on roll.

At this time the children of Kiltiernan most likely attended the hedge-school at Cahirpeak of the “Free School” at Ardrahan.  When Cahirpeak closed, another hedge-school began at Turlough na Frankagh with John Geoghegan as its teacher.  It had an average daily attendance of 50 and the children paid a fee of 1/3 to 3/5 per quarter. It existed for the years 1834-41.

Also Maurice Blake of Clogh established a school at Cloghballymore in 1832.  It had an average of 80 pupils.  This school existed till May 1851, when it closed, because its teacher John Whelan went to work for the Board of Works, and no competent teacher could be found to replace him.

Meanwhile in Ballindereen, the local landlord Christopher St. George M.P. gave a site for a new school, he applied for a grant in January 1852.  He had also given the site for the church, and the new school was built across from the church (1856-57) and opened in November 1858.

When I last spoke of Ardrahan it had its “Parish School” still at Ardrahan with James Burke the Master getting £5 yearly from Sir John Taylor, and £10 yearly with board and lodging from Captain Shawe-Taylor of Castletaylor.  It had an average attendance of 54 pupils.  Fr. Nolan, on the other hand, had set up a school in the chapel of Ardrahan with Patrick Connolly as Master.  There was some dispute or row between himself and the Protestant Minister, Rev. M. Dwyer which led to this development.  The school had an average attendance of 60 pupils and they paid 1/3 to 2/6 per quarter.

These schools disappeared during the famine years of 1845-6-7, and as a result we find Fr. Michael Nelly, opening a temporary school at Ardrahan, with 65 pupils, in 1850, which was replaced two years later by a new school,(March 1852) with John Burke as teacher.

He also opened a temporary school at Ballyglass (1850).  When Walter Shawe-Taylor married Elizabeth Perse of Roxboro in 1864, nobody dreamt that it would bring about the building of Kiltiernan N.S..  Within a short period of her arrival she opened a proselytizing school at Castletaylor, known as the “Irish Mission” School in Ardrahan, and within four years (1868) she had 26 pupils, 17 of whom were Catholics.  The Bishop of Kilmacduagh and Kilfenora, Dr. McEvilly took firm and swift action against proselytism and he had a permanent school built in Ballyglass in 1866.  Yet she continued her interference in the faith of the people in the districts of Castletaylor and Ardrahan, and when she took advantage of the circumstances of the people especially in 1879, which was a year of great distress, hunger, hardship and in some places famine due to a bad harvest (It was the year Our Blessed Lady appeared at Knock), the parish priest Fr. T.B. Considine decided to counteract her activity by organising a parish mission for that year, and by building a school close to Castletaylor.

The Parish Mission

The Mission took place in August 1879, Fr. T.B. Considine invited the Vincentians to give the mission.  Mrs. Shawe-Taylor challenged the Catholic clergy to a public discussion with a Protestant Minister, whom she brought to the parish for this purpose.  But Fr. Considine treated her challenge with contempt.

The “Galway Vindicator” writing on August 13th, 1879 states that “There is no instance on record of any Catholic Priest attempting a similar performance to that of Rev. Mr. Austin, under feminine patronage at Ardrahan, at the present time.  The conduct of a lady of position in the parish of Ardrahan, who will not permit the Catholic community of the parish, in which she resides, and in which she exercises considerable territorial influence to  practise their own religion, without making an aggression upon them.”

The Mission was a huge success.  Of the 300 families in the parish every man, woman and chuild went to Confession.  Edward Martyn and his brother Lieut. Martyn attended the Mission.  The Bishop Dr. McEvilly attended the closing Mass at which he confirmed 200.  A splendid choir from the Convent of Mercy, Gort sung at the Mass and Benediction, and Mars. Martyn donated the Stations of the Cross for the Church.

Mrs. Shawe-Taylor continued her school at Castletaylor.  In 1881 she had 33 pupils, 13 of whom were Catholics.  In 1891 she had 37 pupils, 4 of whom were Catholics, and by 1901 she had 13 pupils and all were Protestant.  Yet after all this strife and conflict, within a hundred years, Catholic and Protestant children were to sit side by side with the walls of Kiltiernan School.  Hardly anyone could visualise it in 1879, but by 1950, the peach and harmony of the 1820’s had returned once more to the schools of Ardrahan and Kiltiernan.

History also surrounds its teachers, due mainly to the fact that they are few in number, and predominantly from one family.

Denis O’Rourke was appointed the 1st Principal of the school on 20th October 1879, with a salary of £32.  All I know about him is that he taught for two years in the school. The number of pupils, in those early years was low, because it had not the average for the appointment of a workmistress.  In mixed schools, conducted by a Master with no Female Assistant, a workmistress could be employed, to give instruction in Needlework and Cutting Out provided that there were at least 20 girls in average attendance.

In May 1881, John Burns was appointed principal and so began the long and historical connection of the family with Kiltiernan, which lasted until December 1958.  He was a native of the town of Gort, born in 1956. He travelled daily from Gort to the school on foot by Kiltartan, Chessy Cross, Sheehan’s Cross where it is said that Mrs. Sheehan often quenched his thirst or revived his spirits, with a mug of fresh buttermilk.

He took the train home from Ardrahan Station in the evening.  He lived in Georges Street, Gort until in 1889 when he married Elizabeth Forde a native of Tubber, who was teaching in Reerowar N.S.  Then he came to live in Labane.  She retired from teaching to look after her family of four boys and five girls, but she used to stand-in for her husband, whenever he was absent through sickness.  She was a mild and gentle teacher.

The family also went to school with their father.  They walked it, though they had a donkey and trap for a while.  His pupils speak highly of him as a teacher.  They respected him, even though like the teachers of his age, he was stern and cross, yet he was very witty and understanding.  “He was a fine type of man, of noble character”, is how an old pupil of his described him.  He taught English, a little Irish, Christian Doctrine, Arithmetic, Algebra, Book-keeping, Geography and History.  He was a fast speaker, a beautiful writer, but never got involved in the national movement, and hardly mentioned it in school, not even the 1916 Rising.

He taught for a salary of £45.  The attendance was very irregular due to poverty, lack of interest on the part of the parents, bad weather, and the distance that the children had to travel.  Less than half the children on roll attended school.

In 1885, the attendance improved a little and on July 1st Mary Keighry was appointed as Workmistress.  She was a native of Ballyboy, Ardrahan, and it was she who composed the song about Castletaylor:

I am going to take a long last look at Castletaylor groves

And on those dear and lovely paths which I have known of old.

With the grand and towering beeches growing on each side.

While the laurel grows and clusters there, the little birds to hide.

Fr. T.B. Considine had to find a site for his school outside the parish, as Ardrahan and Castletaylor were in the Taylor Estate.  Mr. George Morris, a landlord of the parish, a kind and compassionate one, who had reduced the rent for his tenants, gave him a site in the townland next to Castletaylor, at Kiltiernan in the parish of Ballindereen.  It was built during the year 1878, at a cost of £336.  The National School Board gave a grant of £224 and Mr. George Morris subscribed generously towards the building of the school.  This school was enclosed by a high stone wall which cost £46.16.8 for which a grant of £31.4.5 was received.  The local people worked in the building of the school, and Patrick Smyth (the grandfather of Patrick and Helena Smyth, Caheradoo) was one of those who drew the stones with the horse and cart.  On the 25th of March 1879 the school was vested in Trustees, Most Rev. Dr. McEvilly, Bishop of Galway, Rev. T.B. Considine P.P. Ardrahan, Rev. F. Forde P.P. Ballindereen for 61 years and it was opened in October 1879.

There were 142 pupils on roll.  We have the average daily attendance for each month from January 1885 to Sept 1887.  It is interesting to study it because it shows the numbers falling in the months of March and April and again in September and October.  The children stayed at home for the sowing of the potatoes and again at harvest time.





















































For what reason I do not know, the average rose dramatically in June 187, with the number over 70, an assistant teacher was employed. Thomas Gardiner held the post for one year, July 1st, 1887 to June 1888. He was a native of Doorus, born in 1866. He was a monitor in the school under John Burns, for five years (1882-1887). Monitors were appointed as apprentices to the teaching profession, and also to assist in carrying out the work of the school. He passed the examination for temporary Assistant in Galway, July 1887, and afterwards he was principal of Kinvara boys N.S.

In 1889 the boy’s school, run by the Christian Brothers in Clairnbridge, closed and some pupils from the Cahirpeak and Caheradoo areas changed to Kiltiernan, ie Thomas Smyth, and with numbers up, a Mr. M. O’Halloran was employed as temporary Assistant for a few months. The manager Fr. Considine, tried to hold on to the Assistant, by informing the National School Board that the numbers were down in 1890, due to some epidemic or flu. It wasn’t accepted and in the same year the attendance had fallen so low, that the grant for the Workmistress, Mary Keighry was cancelled on June 30th, 1890. Mr. John  Burns had no assistance after 1890, until Miss Kate Costello of Cahirpeak became Workmistress 1903-1904, but he often had one of the senior pupils (some children went to school until they were 16 or 17 years of age), to teach the infants and first class (Eugene O’Neill and Mr. Burns eldest daughter, Margaret).

The Inspectors reports for those early years, have to do with the roof casting falling off exterior, and slates falling off the roof (March 1882), and of being unable to reach the school because of an extraordinary flood that blocked the way up to the school in 1883 and of informing the manager in 1899 that the school could be used as a polling booth for elections.

In 1906 it was decided that in every school with an average attendance of 35-50 pupils, a junior assistant mistress could be employed, but I have no record of such an appointment in Kiltiernan N.S until January 1912, when Fr. Corcoran P.P asked Teresa Gilligan of Raheen to assist John Burns. She had completed her secondary education in the Mercy Convent, Gort, and for four years she assisted John Burns until 1916 when she went to Dublin to do her training in Marlboro House. She resided in Talbot House in Talbot Street. She also met John’s son, Joseph in 1912 whom she married April 15th, 1923.

Having completed her training she went to Co. Donegal 1918. She taught in Letterbarrow N.S., 4 miles from Donegal town. She stayed in Bundoran and cycled to school everyday, a distance of 25 miles.

In 1920 she was appointed assistant to Mrs. Burke in Ballindereen N.S where she taught until her retirement in 1959. She is still in good health living in Galway.

John Burns retired in 1922 and despite his many years of teaching and all that travelling he live to the age of 91 and died in March 1947. At one time it didn’t seem likely that he would have a son to walk in his footsteps, Joe showed no interest in the teaching profession and when he finished his primary education under his father , he went to work as a porter in the Railway Station, Ardrahan for 9/ – a week, By the age of 21, he had second thoughts, maybe influenced by his girlfriend, Teresa Gilligan, and with special tuition from his mother (who also lived to the great age of 85, dying on Christmas Eve 1947), he was successful in 1914 in the entrance examination for Marlboro Training College.

In 1916 he began teaching as Gort-na-Scigh N.S, Lechaun, Co Leitrim, but in 1918 he changed to Fanore N.S. He went there without knowing that there was a dispute between the teachers Organisation and the Manager, Fr. Jim Considine, over the dismissal of a teacher. Apparently a teacher had been appointed who was deemed unsuitable and he was dismissed by the Manager. While teaching there the teachers residence was burned and even though he was physically attacked more than once, he refused police protection. Joe himself was a trained boxer and also a very determined person. In 1921, Dr. O’Dea, Bishop of Galway, asked him to withdraw and the following year, Fr. Carr P.P appointed him to replace his father in Kiltiernan. Like his father, he was stern, cross and strict on those who had ability. He was eager to push them for examinations and scholarships, and many were successful. HIs pupils also participated in the local Feiseanna. He added Geometry to his father’s curriculum. When he married Teresa Gilligan in 1923 he came to live in Castletaylor in the very house Mrs. Shaw Taylor ran her school 60 years previously. They travelled to school, by car, taking his sister Margaret with them except for the war years. This travelling by both of them to KIltiernan and Ballindereen was one of the factors that made Joe Burns join his wife as Principal of Ballindereen N.S in 1944. They went to live in the teacher’s residence beside the school. He retired in 1959 and died in 1975. When Teresa GIlligan left Kiltiernan way back in 1916, Fr. Carr appointed Margaret Burns, John’s eldest daughter as his assistant in October, a post she held in the school until she retired 31st of December 1958. She received her secondary education at the Mercy Convent Gort. She married Martin Burke, a native of Balymaquive, and a first cousin of Teresa Gilligan in 1927, and lived beside her brother Joe in Castletaylor. For 42 years she cared for and educated the infants and junior classes. She saw the closing of the old school and the opening of the new in 1950.

Thank God she is still in good health, living in Labane, with her daughter Chrissie, and sister Christina, a kind teacher, very shy but sincere.

Her retirement was the end of an era; Kiltiernan School was without a member of the Burns family on its teaching staff for the first time in 78 years. Since the war the school has been blessed with the permanency of its teachers, Mr. Ben Reardon was principal from January 1944 to March 1945 and then Mr. John Moylan began another long period of dedicated service to the school. Mrs. Molly Murphy was appointed assistant in January 1959. The Kiltiernan area is indebted, in its hundred years since the school was built to its teachers – especially John Burns, Mrs. Margaret Burke (nee Burns), Joseph Burns, John Moylan and Mrs. Molly Murphy who each taught two generations of many families. They have left a priceless legacy to the open stoned walled fields of Kiltiernan.

History of Kiltiernan National School and its Teachers

The old school was located across the road from the present school. It was built in 1878 at a cost of 336 pounds and opened in October 1879. It is now the private residence of the Meehan Family, old and treasured friends of our school. A plaque honouring the Burns family, who taught  in the school for many years, was placed on the front wall of Meehan’s house in 1983.

The current school was built in 1948 and opened in 1950. It is remarkable that many of its teachers gave exceptionally long service and commitment to the school. To those who have passed to a better life we pray “Ar Dheis De go raibh a n-anamacha.”

An extention, funded by the parents was built to the current school and opened in 1997.This room provides much needed all purpose space for the school.

Recent building works comprising of 3 classrooms, staff room, office , reception area and toilet facilities began in October 2005 and have just been completed in August 2006.

Teaching Staff Kiltiernan National School

  • Denis O Rourke 1879-1881
  • John  Burns 1881-1922
  • Teresa Gilligan 1912-1916
  • Joseph Burns 1922-1944
  • Margaret Burke(Nee Burns)1916-1958
  • Mr Ben Reardon 1944-1945
  • Mr John Moylan 1945-1983
  • Mrs Molly Murphy 1959-1995
  • Mr Sean Holian 1983-2001
  • Ms Catherine Fallon 1985-1995
  • Ms Edel Leech 1995-Present
  • Mrs Margaret Timmins 1998-2013
  • Ms Lynda Cummins 2005-Present
  • Mr Gerard Mooney 2001-2003
  • Ms Emer O Doherty 2002-Present
  • Ms Brid Fenlon 2003-Present
  • Ms Martina Blackwell 2013-Present
  • Mr Joe Corry 2013-Present
  • Ms Lynda Cummins to 2005-2016
  • Ms Martina Blackwell  to 2013-2014
  • Mr Joe Corry to 2013-2018
  • Ms Deirdre Forde 2017- Present